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Face the Musician: Sidi Touré’s Sahel Folk

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Face the Musician is based on the idea that discussion of an album shouldn’t end with its review, because there’s always more to say. So we invite the musician back — not to critique the review, but to talk about their work with the review as a conversation piece.

Face the Musician: Sidi Touré’s Sahel Folk

  • Read Kevin Macneil Brown’s review of Sahel Folk

    Dusted: When you read reviews of your work by foreign critics, do you sense that your music is being heard differently than it is at home? How?

    Sidi Touré: Yes, my music is heard differently in the West. I can even say my music is more listened to... In Mali, people listen to blues, but not everyone, each one is often linked with a particular type of music. Moreover, it is quite surprising to see that it’s often Europeans or Americans who discover our talent, who realise that what we do is good, while artists are not necessarily recognized in their own country. In my mind, because of the link wih blues music, I’m not surprised if a European or an American feels good with one of my songs.

    Dusted: Reviews of Malian guitar music so often use the term "blues" generically. Is it a description that you’re comfortable with?

    ST: I take the opportunity of this interview to pay tribute to Ali Farka Touré, my elder, who would take an interest in this question. In a way, here we don’t know blues or jazz music, it’s an occidental name, here we call this music Gao-Gao, Chalo, Holley,...* This dates back to the deportation of African people to America, to the music they kept with them to not forget their native country, which later gave blues and jazz. Myself, I play the songhaï folklore, the way I play it is different but we can hear in it blues music. For example, in my first album "Hoga" , I sung "Ir Kagay Alada.” Someone told me it sounded like a John Lee Hooker song, I listened to one of his cassette and, yes, it was true, it sounded like one of his, though I never met John Lee Hooker, never heard his music....

    *songhaï musical styles

    Dusted: Music and displacement seem to have a strong relationship everywhere. Why do displaced people so often turn to songs as symbols of home, or of their past?

    ST: Exile and music are brothers. It’s often when they were far from their home that some artists, writers, painters, musicians, created their greatest masterpiece. Music allows us to keep a link and not forget. It’s nostalgia, and when we think of our home it can also be a big pleasure. I play music from Gao, and I’m one of those rare musicians who is inspired by Gao’s folklore, like Gao-Gao, Takamba or Holley, the posession dance. Those are the rhythms I’m playing in. So if you’re from Gao, but far from it, and you listen to my music, you are in Gao. I’ve experienced this myself several times. A long time ago, I was in Niger, lying in my bed, thinking that I would never be able to go back to Gao and then came the song "Gao,” about nostalgia for my home, my native country, the land of my birth... But deplacement means also a new land, a new life, a new future. When I arrived in Bamako, in 1992, after the return of democracy, one night I was on the hill of knowledge, watching the city lights and I saw that things were changing despite some people. I saw a free Bamako, a multicultural Mali, so I wrote my song "Bamako.”

    Dusted: In what ways do you pay tribute to Ali Farka Touré in your daily life and in your music? Are there other musicians to whom you also feel indebted?

    ST: Ali Farka Touré was a great man, I remember a jolly man, who liked to share, and was open and approachable, who lent a hand to many artists, that’s why I’m trying to pay tribute in different ways such as writing a song about him, or when I played in sweden I asked for one minute silence in his memory,... If you can hear about Farka all over the world it’s because he drew from the source of Africa, he showed in the sight of everybody that a lot of music people can play all over the world came from this source which is mother Africa. Farka is an example, with his own singing, his own guitare style - he woke up the folklore. He inspired me, the proof being that when I was younger I only played Farka’s song. Later when I get into the Songhoï-Star, the Gao’s regional orchestra, I said "now Sidi, you have to find your own identity, because you can wrap in someone’s blanket but if one day he takes it back, you’ll have nothing." So I decided to have my own "blanket.”

    A lot of musicians inspired me in my life, including Ibrahim Soumaré, Harouna Barry, Harouani Dicko, Zani Diabaté, and Hamou Kounta,... Among all these great musicians, one has a special place, my master the late Ibrahim Hamma Dicko. He was the first singer of the Gao’s regional orchestra, he was one of the first composers of the region of Gao with Hamou Kounta and he was the first one who released an album that we could call blues, before Ali Farka Touré became famous, when no one knew what it was. I played with him, I Touréd with him, I was with him in the Gao’s band. When I wrote new songs, I went to see him for some advice and he told me "you can sing like this,” "you can play like that" and so on.

    Dusted: The review also describes the music as warm. But this is a an album about politics as well. How do these elements fit together?

    ST: This music, we live it, we feel it but we also have message to carry. We get onto a lot of subjects, there is no subject we don’t try to explore, because lyrics have to reach as many people as possible. As to politics, if you are not involved in it, politics will take care of you.... I’m a messenger, and I have to denounce it when things are going wrong, and even when things seem to go right. The artist is the one who can say out loud what others are thinking in private. He has to have a view. If someone sees Bamako, I have to see further than Paris.

    By Ben Tausig

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